SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources on Wednesday reported the first case of bird flu confirmed in wild birds and asked the public not to touch dead birds.
While the highly contagious avian influenza was confirmed in domestic birds in Utah last month, this is the first case of the virus in a wild bird after a dead great horned owl tested positive.
According to a release from DWR, the great horned owl was found dead in Cache County on April 29 and sent to the Utah Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in Logan for testing. It was then sent to the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, which confirmed the bird had high pathogenic avian influenza. Five additional great horned owls have been found dead in Cache and Weber counties, and the Utah DWR is awaiting their test results.
Bird flu is very contagious among birds and can cause rapid death in domestic birds, such as chickens, turkeys, and domestic ducks. These viruses occasionally kill wild birds, as well.
DWR said the most common wild birds impacted by the virus are typically waterfowl, shorebirds, raptors, and scavengers. There are typically few symptoms in waterfowl and shorebirds, but the virus can kill raptors and scavengers quickly. The virus is spread among birds through nasal and oral discharge, as well as fecal droppings. It can be spread to backyard poultry and domestic birds through contaminated shoes or vehicles.
Songbirds are not typically affected by avian flu, so people shouldn’t have to remove bird feeders unless they also have backyard chickens or domestic ducks, which are susceptible to the virus. However, it’s always recommended to regularly clean bird feeders and baths.
Although the current strain of the avian flu presents a low risk to people, it has been confirmed in at least one person in Colorado during this most recent outbreak.
“If anyone finds a group of five or more dead waterfowl or shorebirds or any individual dead scavengers or raptors, they should report it to the nearest DWR office and absolutely make sure not to touch the birds or pick them up,” DWR Veterinarian Ginger Stout said. “Just report it to us, and we will come collect them for testing. We are continuing to monitor this virus in wild bird populations. It typically doesn’t have much of an impact on the overall populations of waterfowl, but it’s likely that we will have some die now that it’s been confirmed in wild birds in the state.”
The last outbreak of avian flu in the U.S. occurred in 2014 and 2015 when highly pathogenic strains of avian influenza were detected in wild birds of the Pacific, Central, and Mississippi flyways. During that outbreak, the virus was detected in two healthy ducks in Utah.